MoJo Author Feeds: Tim McDonnell | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/rss/authors/116771 http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en This Town Was Almost Swallowed by a Coal Mine http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/04/germany-battle-coal-energiewende <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/W7L6CO_ZWKI" width="630"></iframe></p> <p><span class="section-lead">Holzweiler, Germany, </span>just escaped impending death.</p> <p>A tidy village of stone houses clustered around an aging cathedral, it's only 40 minutes up the Autobahn from the modernist bustle of Cologne, the country's fourth-largest city. The drive winds past farms spiked with towering wind turbines, standard-bearers of Germany's nationwide green energy overhaul. But Holzweiler's quiet sidewalks are also precariously close to one of Europe's largest open-pit coal mines.</p> <p>When I visited last fall, residents of Holzweiler and a cluster of neighboring villages had been living on borrowed time. The villages were in the way of the expanding mine, and locals had been told by the government that within a matter of years their homes would be bulldozed to get at the coal&mdash;the world's dirtiest kind, known as lignite&mdash;buried underneath.</p> <p>Gisela Irving, a 78-year-old Holzweiler resident, keeps a small garden and a few chickens here that she raises with the help of a big, shaggy mutt named Butch. Gisela told me the region's threatened destruction was hard to reconcile with its bucolic present.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <img alt="Gisela Irving" class="image" src="/files/giselaMJmaster.jpg"><div class="caption"> <strong>Gisela Irving lives in Holzweiler, Germany, which was just spared from being swallowed by a coal mine. </strong>Tim McDonnell</div> </div> <p>"It's a peaceful world," Gisela said, stooping to pluck a green pepper. "I very often say it's a little bit of a paradise."</p> <p>Paradise peters out just a few blocks from this yard, where the cobblestone street turns to mud and the houses&mdash;many already vacated&mdash;yield to prairie. Since the early 1980s, Gisela has watched the coal mine&mdash;called Garzweiler after the first town cleared away to make room for it&mdash;inch closer to her door. In her yard, we could hear the low, not-so-distant churning of massive digging machines.</p> <p>Gisela and her neighbors had spent years pleading with the regional government to block the machines' steady march; yellow ribbons adorned the gates of many houses here, signs of solidarity against the encroaching mine. In December, Germany's top court ruled that Garzweiler was important enough to the national power system for the company operating it, RWE, to proceed with plans to pay for the demolition and relocation of these towns. Last month, the government decided to spare Holzweiler, but nearby towns haven't been so lucky.</p> <p>It's a familiar battle for many Germans: Since World War II, open-pit lignite mines have displaced roughly 35,000 people, <a href="http://www.aims.rwth-aachen.de/downloads/Opencast%20Garzweiler_Field%20full%20of%20energy.pdf" target="_blank">according to RWE</a>. The same drama playing out here is also unfolding in <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/19/world/europe/german-village-resists-plans-to-strip-it-away-for-the-coal-underneath.html?_r=0" target="_blank">the country's other main coal region</a> south of Berlin.</p> <p>Germany's struggle with lignite mining is taking place behind the scenes of its green energy revolution, known here as the <em>Energiewende</em>. If Germany&mdash;which bills itself as one of the planet's most climate-friendly nations&mdash;can't kick its coal habit, can anyone?<br> &nbsp;</p> <p><span class="section-lead">Outside Holzweiler is a grassy hilltop</span> where one can see a row of massive smokestacks&mdash;power stations fired by the local coal&mdash;nestled among a dozen wind turbines.</p> <p>It's a strange contrast: Over the last decade, Germany has become a world leader in creating electricity from renewable sources, like the sun and the wind, that don't spew climate-warming greenhouse gases. The government has committed to some of the world's most aggressive climate goals: By 2050, it wants to slash its greenhouse emissions by 80 to 95 percent compared to 1990 levels while getting at least 80 percent of its power from renewable sources. Renewables already provide nearly a quarter of the country's electricity, double the US rate and among the highest in Europe.</p> <p>Energy policymakers in the United States are keeping a close eye on Germany, because curbing coal use is a central tenant of President Obama's climate action plan. This year the Environmental Protection Agency is pushing a twin pair of proposed regulations to limit carbon emissions from new and existing coal plants. Obama's coal strategy is more head-on than the German model, which looks more like death by a thousand solar panels, and which is proving to be a very slow death indeed.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <img alt="yellow ribbon" class="image" src="/files/yellow-ribbon-MJ.jpg"><div class="caption"> <strong>At the edge of Garzweiler, a yellow ribbon is "a sign of solidarity for the people who are going to lose their houses," says Dirk Jansen, a local anti-coal campaigner. </strong>Tim McDonnell</div> </div> <p>Despite its progress with renewable energy, Germany is still dependent on coal for nearly half its power&mdash;a larger proportion than even the United States'. And there's little hope for that to drop anytime soon. In 2013, coal's share of the country's energy mix rose 1.5 percent over the previous year, nearly three times the growth in renewables.</p> <p>The Garzweiler mine will keep operating into the 2040s, according to RWE. At 35 million metric tons each year, it unearths about a third as much coal as the US's top-producing mine. But the scale here is still overwhelming: It covers 18.5 square miles&mdash;that's half the area of Manhattan. Stand on one side, and the pit stretches all the way to the horizon. An excavator wheel as tall as a seven-story house continuously shovels out coal, which is loaded onto a 57-mile network of conveyor belts to be delivered to the nearby power plants.</p> <p>And this is no ordinary coal. Most US mines produce bituminous coal, which forms deep underground at high pressure, has a relatively high energy content, and resembles a hard, black rock. Most coal produced in Germany, on the other hand, is lignite, which forms close to the surface (hence the open-pit, rather than deep-shaft, mine) and is brownish, moist, and crumbly. Its energy content is substantially lower, meaning much more must be burned to produce the same amount of electricity. Lignite also produces 6 percent more carbon emissions per unit of energy than bituminous coal, and 80 percent more than natural gas. Add that up, and the impact is startling: Just one lignite-fired power plant produces up to 50 million metrics tons of CO<sub>2</sub> each year, according to the European Climate Foundation. That's about as much as the state of Montana. But more importantly it's fully half the level of carbon emissions Germany aims to produce in total by mid-century.</p> <p>That's why experts say that if Germany wants to meet its ambitious climate goals, phasing out coal will be the biggest challenge.</p> <p>"Coal will have to be displaced soon," says Lutz Weischer, a German energy analyst with the World Resources Institute. "But currently we don't see that happening."<br> &nbsp;</p> <p><span class="section-lead">At the end of March, </span>Holzweiler finally got some good news. In a compromise between the coal-industry-aligned Social Democratic Party and the climate-focused Green Party, the state government decided to limit Garzweiler's growth&mdash;a rare move for this historic seat of coal production. Holzweiler, which was first settled in Roman times, will be skirted by the mine and spared from destruction. An estimated 1,300 people won't have to relocate, and about a fifth of the mine's coal will stay buried.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <img alt="garzweiler" class="image" src="/files/garzweiler-MJ.jpg"><div class="caption"> <strong>The Garzweiler lignite mine will continue production into the 2040s. </strong>Tim McDonnell</div> </div> <p>But about 2,000 people in neighboring villages still face relocation, at RWE's expense, so that the company can access roughly a billion metric tons of coal.</p> <p>RWE, for its part, tries to ensure that "the personal impact to these people is as low as possible," according to Thomas Birr, a senior strategist with the company. "I acknowledge the personal and emotional challenge of those people we have to relocate, and we take that into account, of course," he adds.</p> <p>With many of its residents moved out, the nearby village of Immerath is already a ghost town. Gisela drove me to a street that dead-ends into the mine, a place she calls "the edge of the world." The brick houses were shuttered and crumbling, the edge of the village literally eroding away.</p> <p>"I've got the impression that people from outside Germany have got the feeling that we are more or less perfect and everything is correct," she said, over the roar of excavation machines in the pit below. "It's not."</p> </body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/environment/2014/04/germany-battle-coal-energiewende"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Environment Video Climate Change Climate Desk Corporations Energy International Top Stories Infrastructure Thu, 24 Apr 2014 10:06:09 +0000 Tim McDonnell 250011 at http://www.motherjones.com This Climate Scientist Just Won Another Victory in Court http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/04/michael-mann-foia-uva <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>Michael Mann, the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/01/michael-mann-climategate-court-victory" target="_blank">perennially</a> <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2011/04/history-of-climategate" target="_blank">embattled</a> climate scientist best known for his "hockey-stick" temperature graph, came out victorious yesterday in a court battle against a Virginia legislator and a conservative think tank that had sought to obtain thousands of Mann's emails and research documents from his time as a University of Virginia professor.</p> <p>The Virginia Supreme Court <a href="http://www.courts.state.va.us/opinions/opnscvwp/1130934.pdf" target="_blank">ruled</a> that unpublished scientific research can be exempted from the state's Freedom of Information Act requirements, because disclosing such information would cut into the university's competitive advantage over other universities. As a result, some 12,000 of Mann's emails and papers won't be released to the <a href="http://eelegal.org/" target="_blank">Energy &amp; Environment Legal Institute</a> (formerly known as the American Tradition Institute) and Virginia Delegate Robert Marshall (R-Prince William), who had requested the documents in 2011.</p> <p>In a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/MichaelMannScientist/posts/688569971199208?stream_ref=10" target="_blank">statement</a> on his Facebook page, Mann called the decision "a victory for science, public university faculty, and academic freedom."</p> <p>Back in 2012, a lower Virginia court <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-state-of-nova/post/uva-wins-key-ruling-in-prince-william-global-warming-foia-case-involving-michael-mann/2012/09/18/6c422d98-0133-11e2-b257-e1c2b3548a4a_blog.html" target="_blank">ruled</a> that the documents in question were considered "proprietary," and thus shielded from FOIA requests. ATI appealed the decision, and the case <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/local/wp/2013/10/09/prince-william-foia-case-on-global-warming-headed-for-virginia-supreme-court/" target="_blank">landed</a> with the state's Supreme Court last October. The main question was whether research-related documents should get the same kind of protection as trade secrets and other information that could cause financial harm if released. ATI argued that Mann's emails didn't merit such protection, while Mann and U-Va. maintained that scientists should be able to hammer out their work behind closed doors before presenting a finished product to the public.&nbsp; &nbsp;</p> <p>In a <a href="http://www.rcfp.org/sites/default/files/2013-11-12-ATI-v-UVA.PDF" target="_blank">brief</a> filed with the Supreme Court late last year, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press argued that in protecting Mann's research, the lower court had actually set the scope too wide, leaving open the possibility that a university could claim virtually <em>any</em> document to be proprietary. But yesterday's Supreme Court ruling revised the exemption criteria so that non-research-related documents&mdash;things like budgets and communications between administrators&mdash;could still be accessed with a FOIA, said Emily Grannis, the Reporters Committee staffer who authored the brief.</p> <p>Of course, Grannis said, the ruling is only binding in the state of Virginia, but it could serve as a model for how other states set limits for what qualifies as proprietary if similar cases arise elsewhere.</p> </body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/blue-marble/2014/04/michael-mann-foia-uva"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Blue Marble Civil Liberties Climate Change Climate Desk Courts Fri, 18 Apr 2014 20:15:07 +0000 Tim McDonnell 250116 at http://www.motherjones.com Here's What Fracking Can Do to Your Health http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/04/heres-what-fracking-can-do-your-health <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>If you know one thing about fracking, it might be that the wells have been linked to explosive tap water. Of course, a tendency toward combustion isn't the biggest problem with gas-infused water; it's what could happen to you when you drink it.</p> <p>Although the natural gas industry is <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/08/maps-fracking-disclosure-laws-your-backyard" target="_blank">notoriously tight-lipped</a> about the ingredients of the chemical cocktails that get pumped down into wells, by now it's widely known that the list often includes some <a href="http://fracfocus.org/chemical-use/what-chemicals-are-used" target="_blank">pretty scary, dangerous stuff</a>, including hydrochloric acid and ethylene glycol (a.k.a. antifreeze). It's also no secret that well sites release hazardous gases like methane and benzene (a carcinogen) into the atmosphere.</p> <p>So just how dangerous are fracking and other natural gas extraction processes for your health (not counting, for the sake of argument, explosions and <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/11/us-ohio-fracking-earthquakes-idUSBREA3A1J620140411" target="_blank">earthquakes</a>)? Is it true, as <a href="http://montymckeever.com/?p=2628" target="_blank">an activist-art campaign by Yoko Ono</a> recently posited, that "fracking kills"?</p> <p>The answer to that second question is probably not, especially in the short term and if you don't work on or live across the street from a frack site (which, of course, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/01/fracking-company-banned-woman-her-grocery-store" target="_blank">some people in fact do</a>). But that doesn't mean it's okay to start fracking away next to kindergartens and nursing homes: Gas extraction produces a range of potentially health-endangering pollutants at nearly every stage of the process, according to a new paper by the California nonprofit <a href="http://www.psehealthyenergy.org/" target="_blank">Physicians Scientists &amp; Engineers for Healthy Energy</a>, released today in <em><a href="http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/" target="_blank">Environmental Health Perspectives</a></em>, a peer-reviewed journal published by the National Institutes of Health.</p> <p>The study compiled existing, peer-reviewed literature on the health risks of shale gas drilling and found that leaks, poor wastewater management, and air emissions have released harmful chemicals into the air and water around fracking sites nationwide.</p> <p>"It's clear that the closer you are, the more elevated your risk," said lead author Seth Shonkoff, a visiting public health scholar at the University of California-Berkeley. "We can conclude that this process has not been shown to be safe."</p> <p>Shonkoff cautioned that existing research has focused on cataloging risks, rather than linking specific instances of disease to particular drilling operations&mdash;primarily because the fracking boom is so new that long-term studies of, say, cancer rates, simply haven't been done. But as the United States and the world double down on natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal (as this week's UN <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/apr/13/averting-climate-change-catastrophe-is-affordable-says-ipcc-report-un" target="_blank">climate change solutions report</a> suggests), Shonkoff argues policymakers need to be aware of what a slew of fracked wells could mean for the health of those who live near them.</p> <p>Even given the risks involved in producing natural gas, it's still a much healthier fuel source than coal; particulate pollution from coal plants killed an <a href="http://www.catf.us/resources/publications/files/The_Toll_from_Coal.pdf" target="_blank">estimated 13,000 Americans</a> in 2010, while a <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/25/air-pollution-single-biggest-environmental-health-risk-who" target="_blank">recent World Health Organization study</a> named air pollution (to which coal burning is a chief contributor) the single deadliest environmental hazard on earth.</p> </body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/environment/2014/04/heres-what-fracking-can-do-your-health"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Energy Health Science Top Stories Infrastructure Wed, 16 Apr 2014 04:05:05 +0000 Tim McDonnell 249906 at http://www.motherjones.com Watch Harrison Ford Fight Climate Change In a Fighter Jet http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/04/heres-first-years-living-dangerously-episode <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/brvhCnYvxQQ" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>Any film that opens with Harrison Ford buckling into a fighter jet for the sake of science can't be all bad. Especially when that's followed by Don Cheadle tromping through Texas cow country, followed by <em>New York Times</em> columnist Thomas Friedman strapping on a flak jacket and pushing into the heart of Syria's civil war. It's almost enough to make you forget you're watching a show about climate change.</p> <p>But in fact, the new Showtime series <a href="http://yearsoflivingdangerously.com/" target="_blank"><em>Years of Living Dangerously </em></a>is about just that, traversing the warming globe alongside an A-List cast that, as the season progresses, will include Matt Damon, Jessica Alba, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The show premieres Sunday (but the first episode, above, is already online), and counts Hollywood kingmakers Jerry Weintraub and James Cameron as executive producers, and <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/climate/issue/" target="_blank"><em>Climate Progress</em></a> founding editor Joe Romm and Climate Central scientist <a href="http://www.climatecentral.org/about/people-bio/heidi_cullen/" target="_blank">Heidi Cullen</a> as science advisors.</p> <p>If you already follow climate change, many of the stories here won't be new&mdash;<a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2010/12/indonesia-redd-climate-change-rainforest-cancun" target="_blank">deforestation in Indonesia</a>, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/08/fracking-texas-drought-climate-change" target="_blank">drought in Texas</a>, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2013/03/how-climate-change-worsened-violence-syria" target="_blank">conflict in Syria</a>. But <em>Years </em>is a rare, big-budget effort to put the issue squarely in front of an audience more accustomed to <em>Dexter </em>and <em>Homeland</em>, and it does so with spectacular cinematography and compelling, interwoven plot lines that help to propel you through the basics of climate science to arrive at... aw, don't listen to me, just watch the thing.</p> </body></html> Blue Marble Video Climate Change Climate Desk Film and TV Thu, 10 Apr 2014 18:17:47 +0000 Tim McDonnell 249521 at http://www.motherjones.com Here's Why the World Is Spending Less on Renewable Energy http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/04/renewable-energy-spending-bnef <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>The United Nations climate folks think global investment in renewable energy <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/01/un-climate-chief-christiana-figueres-triple-clean-energy-investment" target="_blank">needs to hit $1 trillion a year</a> by 2030 to keep global warming to an acceptable level. So it might seem disconcerting that in 2013, investment dropped for the second year in a row, down 14 percent from 2012 to $214 billion, according to <a href="http://fs-unep-centre.org/sites/default/files/attachments/14008nef_visual_12_key_findings.pdf" target="_blank">new data</a> released by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) at its annual confab in New York this week.</p> <p>As investment fell, so too did the total amount of renewable energy being installed worldwide. That's down nearly 7 percent from 2012 to 2013.</p> <p>But don't worry&mdash;at least not <em>too</em> much. Even though fewer renewable power systems (excluding large hydroelectric projects, which BNEF doesn't count in this analysis) were installed last year, we were using more of it: Renewables accounted for 8.5 percent of all the power generated worldwide in 2013, up from 7.8 percent in 2012. BNEF estimated that renewables saved 1.2 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equal to keeping <em>252.6 million</em> <a href="http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/refs.html" target="_blank">cars</a> off the road.</p> <p>There are two forces at work behind the dropping investment figures, one a good news story and the other not so much. The good news is that 80 percent of the investment decline came thanks to the falling cost of renewable energy technology, primarily solar panels, according to BNEF Advisory Board Chairman Michael Liebreich.&nbsp;The cost of a <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/03/now-you-can-get-solar-panels-best-buy" target="_blank">rooftop solar system in California</a>, for example, which is a good barometer of national trends, has fallen by a third just since 2010. The remaining 20 percent was due to a drop in actual construction activity, thanks to the uncertain fate of government subsidies and general economic sluggishness, especially in Europe.&nbsp;</p> <p>Still, Liebreich told the clean-energy CEOs and investors gathered here this morning that Bloomberg's proprietary data about future investments suggest annual clean tech installations worldwide are likely to jump 37 percent to 112 gigawatts&mdash;a record level&mdash;by 2015. Even last year, renewables accounted for more than 40 percent of all the new power installations (including coal plants, nuke plants, etc.) built in 2013. In other words, any time a new power system gets built, it's increasingly likely to be renewable and not something dirtier.</p> <p>"This is about a future that's structured differently than the past," Liebreich said.</p> <p>The global trends weren't spread evenly across countries. Even though China's overall investment dropped, it still managed to surpass, for the first time ever, the sum spent by all of Europe, where a stagnant economy led countries like Spain and Bulgaria to <a href="http://time.com/51834/renewable-energy-investment/" target="_blank">cut spending</a> on clean-energy subsidies. China is the world's top renewables investor, spending $56 billion on it in 2013 (the United States is at $35.8 billion).</p> <p>In the US, the dip in investment hid a couple other important milestones: Last month California, the nation's biggest solar market, <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/03/now-you-can-get-solar-panels-best-buy" target="_blank">broke its all-time solar power production record</a> twice on two consecutive days. And in January, the United States got an all-time record 4.8 percent of its power from wind turbines, according to BNEF.</p> </body></html> Blue Marble Charts Climate Change Climate Desk Energy Tech Top Stories Infrastructure Tue, 08 Apr 2014 20:58:27 +0000 Tim McDonnell 249331 at http://www.motherjones.com Exxon Has 25 Billion Barrels of Fossil Fuel and Plans To Extract it All http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/04/exxon-climate-change-regulations <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>ExxonMobil has 25.2 billion barrels worth of oil and gas in its current reserves, it's going to extract and sell all of it, and isn't expecting any meddling climate regulations to get in the way.</p> <p>That's the main takeaway of a <a href="http://corporate.exxonmobil.com/en/environment/climate-change/managing-climate-change-risks/carbon-asset-risk" target="_blank">report</a> the company released this week to its investors, examining the risk that greenhouse gas emissions rules in the US and worldwide might pose to its fossil fuel assets. Exxon made <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/21/business/in-a-shift-exxon-agrees-to-report-on-carbon-asset-risk.html" target="_blank">headlines</a> a couple weeks back when it promised to issue the report after facing pressure from shareholders led by&nbsp;Arjuna Capital, a sustainable wealth management firm.</p> <p>If stricter limits on carbon pollution or high carbon taxes force energy companies to keep their holdings buried underground, the thinking among environmental economists goes, it could topple the companies' value and leave investors holding the bag. The result, economists warn, would be a collapse of the so-called <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2013/11/explained-90-seconds-breaking-carbon-budget" target="_blank">"carbon bubble."</a></p> <p>Some big energy companies (including Exxon) have already nodded to this problem, by <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2013/12/chart-how-much-do-companies-charge-themselves-climate-pollution" target="_blank">building a theoretical carbon price</a> into their projected balance sheets. But this report is the first time a large oil and gas company has published a detailed assessment of its own climate risk exposure, <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/21/business/in-a-shift-exxon-agrees-to-report-on-carbon-asset-risk.html" target="_blank">according to</a> the <em>New York </em><em>Times</em>.</p> <p>The report doesn't present a very optimistic view of the prospects for aggressive climate action by world leaders.</p> <p>"We are confident that none of our hydrocarbon reserves are now or will become 'stranded'," the report says. <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2013/11/explained-90-seconds-breaking-carbon-budget" target="_blank">"Stranded assets"</a> is a term climate economists use to refer to fossil fuel reserves that <a href="http://www.wri.org/blog/unabated-coal-use-will-break-world%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Ccarbon-budget%E2%80%9D" target="_blank">could be stuck in the ground</a> if countries around the world implement sufficiently stringent carbon regulations to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels&mdash;a threshold agreed to at the 2009 UN climate summit in Copenhagen. The amount of carbon humans can release without exceeding this limit&mdash;roughly 485 billion metric tons of carbon beyond what we've already emitted&mdash;is often called the "carbon budget."</p> <p>Exxon's report suggests that its planners don't believe serious carbon limits will be on the books anytime soon, leaving the company free to burn through its reserves of oil and gas. That's a disconcerting vision to come just on the heels of Sunday's new Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, which <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/03/ipcc-climate-change-impact-adaptation" target="_blank">predicted a nightmarish future</a> if greenhouse gas emissions aren't slowed soon.</p> <p>"The reserves are going to be able to turn into money, because they're assuming there isn't going to be a policy change," said Natural Resources Defense Council Director of Climate Programs David Hawkins. "They're definitely saying that no matter how bad it gets, the world's addiction to fossil fuels will be so overwhelming that the governments of the world will just suck it up and let people suffer."</p> </body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/environment/2014/04/exxon-climate-change-regulations"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Corporations Energy Top Stories Wed, 02 Apr 2014 20:55:54 +0000 Tim McDonnell 248861 at http://www.motherjones.com No, We Should Not Arrest Climate Deniers http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/03/dont-arrest-climate-deniers <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>Should politicians and pundits who deny climate change be held criminally liable for the misinformation they spread? <em>Gawker</em>'s Adam Weinstein&mdash;our friend and former colleague&mdash;thinks so, and has <a href="http://gawker.com/arrest-climate-change-deniers-1553719888" target="_blank">called for the arrest of outspoken deniers</a>. "Those denialists should face jail," Weinstein writes. "They should face fines. They should face lawsuits from the classes of people whose lives and livelihoods are most threatened by denialist tactics."</p> <p>Predictably, the denier crowd isn't buying the argument. A post on the Heartland Institute's website <a href="http://blog.heartland.org/2014/03/liberal-fascism-putting-man-made-global-warming-skeptics-in-jail/" target="_blank">links Weinstein to "liberal fascism"</a>: "Liberals who are that soaked in the ideology of catastrophic man-caused global warming are fascists. Full stop." Even those normally on Weinstein's climate-change-believing side are pouring scorn in the comments section: "I also want a unicorn. One that shoots rainbow-colored lasers out of its ass. Since, y'know, we're talking about wish-fulfillment that will never, ever happen."</p> <p>So who's right? Much as we like the spirit of Weinstein's argument, ultimately, we disagree with its premise. Here's why:</p> </body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/environment/2014/03/dont-arrest-climate-deniers"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Courts Science Top Stories Tue, 01 Apr 2014 17:28:02 +0000 Tim McDonnell and James West 248656 at http://www.motherjones.com If This Terrifying Report Doesn't Wake You Up to the Realities of What We're Doing to This Planet, What Will? http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/03/ipcc-climate-change-impact-adaptation <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>The impacts of climate change are likely to be "severe, pervasive, and irreversible," the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said Sunday night in Yokohama, Japan, as the world's leading climate experts released a <a href="http://www.ipcc-wg2.gov/AR5/images/uploads/IPCC_WG2AR5_SPM_Approved.pdf" target="_blank">new survey</a> of how our planet is likely to change in the near future, and what we can do about it.</p> <p>Here's what you need to know:</p> <ol> <li> <strong>We're already feeling the impacts of climate change. </strong>Glaciers are already shrinking, changing the courses of rivers and altering water supplies downstream. Species from grizzly bears to <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/03/climate-change-pretty-flowers" target="_blank">flowers</a> have shifted their ranges and behavior. Wheat and maize yields may have dropped. But as climate impacts become more common and tangible, they're being matched by an increasing global effort to learn how to live with them: The number of scientific studies on climate change impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation more than doubled between 2005, before the previous IPCC report, and 2010. Scientists and policymakers are "learning through doing, and evaluating what you've done," said report contributor Kirstin Dow, a climate policy researcher at the University of South Carolina. "That's one of the most important lessons to come out of here."</li> <li> <strong>Heat waves and wildfires are major threats in North America. </strong>Europe faces freshwater shortages, and Asia can expect more severe flooding from extreme storms. In North America, major threats include heat waves and wildfires, which can cause death and damage to ecosystems and property. The report names athletes and outdoor workers as particularly at risk from heat-related illnesses. As the graphic below shows, coastal flooding is also a key concern. <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <img alt="risks chart" class="image" src="/files/IPCC2014_KeyRisks_4_630px.jpg" style="height: 393px; width: 600px; float: left;"><div class="caption">James West/Climate Desk</div> </div> </li> <li> <strong>Globally, food sources will become unpredictable, even as population booms. </strong>Especially in poor countries, diminished crop production will likely lead to increased malnutrition, which already affects nearly 900 million people worldwide. Some of the world's most important staples&mdash;maize, wheat, and rice&mdash;are at risk. The ocean will also be a less reliable source of food, with important fish resources in the tropics either moving north or going extinct, while ocean acidification eats away at shelled critters (like oysters) and coral. Shrinking supplies and rising prices will cause food insecurity, which can <a href="http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&amp;rct=j&amp;q=&amp;esrc=s&amp;source=web&amp;cd=1&amp;ved=0CCkQFjAA&amp;url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.motherjones.com%2Fblue-marble%2F2013%2F03%2Fhow-climate-change-worsened-violence-syria&amp;ei=tNE4U-X9LaausASyi4CIDw&amp;usg=AFQjCNH_uiByIZ4gWBMm_1TJbT3iKQprLQ&amp;sig2=Qc5c7VodLJUrc1R1kg26EA&amp;bvm=bv.63808443,d.cWc" target="_blank">exacerbate preexisting social tensions</a> and lead to conflict.</li> <li> <strong>Coastal communities will increasingly get hammered by flooding and erosion. </strong>Tides are already rising <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/07/watch-house-being-raised-out-floodplain-0" target="_blank">in the US</a> and <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/08/map-top-cities-billion-dollar-floods" target="_blank">around the world</a>. As polar ice continues to melt and warm water expands, sea level rise will expose <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2012/11/climate-change-made-sandy-worse-period" target="_blank">major metropolitan areas</a>, military installations, farming regions, small island nations, and other ocean-side places to increased damage from hurricanes and other extreme storms. Sea level rise brings with it risks of "death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihoods," the report says.</li> <li> <strong>We'll see an increase in climate refugees and, possibly, climate-related violence.</strong> The report warns that both extreme weather events and longer-term changes in climate can lead to the displacement of vulnerable populations, especially in developing parts of the world. Climate change might also "indirectly increase" the <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2013/07/climate-change-violence" target="_blank">risks of civil wars and international conflicts</a> by exacerbating poverty and competition for resources.</li> <li> <strong>Climate change is expected to make people less healthy.</strong> According to the report, we can expect climate change to have a negative impact on health in many parts of the world, especially poorer countries. Why? Heat waves and fires will cause injury, disease and death. Decreased food production will mean more malnutrition. And food- and water-borne diseases will make more people sick.</li> <li> <strong>We don't know how much adaptation is going to cost.</strong> The damage we're doing to the planet means that human beings are going to have to adapt to the changing climate. But that costs money. Unfortunately, studies that estimate the global cost of climate adaptation "are characterized by shortcomings in data, methods, and coverage," according to the IPCC. But from the "limited evidence" available, the report warns that there's a "gap" between "global adaptation needs and the funds available."</li> <li> <strong>There's still time to reduce the impacts of global warming...if we cut our emissions.</strong> Here's the good news: The IPCC says that the impacts of climate change&mdash;and the costs of adaptation&mdash;will be "reduced substantially" if we cut our emissions of greenhouse gases.</li> </ol> </body></html> Environment Climate Change Climate Desk Top Stories Infrastructure Mon, 31 Mar 2014 03:36:58 +0000 Tim McDonnell, Jeremy Schulman, and James West 248606 at http://www.motherjones.com GOP Lawmakers Scramble to Court Tesla http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/03/gop-lawmakers-scramble-green-energy-cash <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <p>Electric vehicle sales in New Jersey <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/michelinemaynard/2014/03/11/new-jersey-to-tesla-youre-outta-here/" target="_blank">ran out of batteries earlier this month</a>, when the Chris Christie administration voted to ban car manufacturers from selling directly to drivers. The companies must now use third-party dealers. The ban applies to all car manufacturers, but seemed particularly aimed at Tesla, which had been in negotiations with the administration for months to sell electric cars straight from its own storefronts in the state.</p> <p>The move was a win for the state's <a href="http://www.thenewamerican.com/economy/markets/item/17906-tesla-sales-model-upsetting-traditional-auto-dealers" target="_blank">surprisingly powerful auto dealer lobby</a> and a loss for one of the country's <a href="http://www.cleanfleetreport.com/top-electric-cars-2010/" target="_blank">biggest electric car makers</a>. But it also cemented New Jersey's place as a non-contender for the real prize: a <a href="http://www.teslamotors.com/sites/default/files/blog_attachments/gigafactory.pdf" target="_blank">$5 billion battery "gigafactory"</a> that Tesla plans to begin construction on later this year. With an estimated 6,500 employees, the factory will likely become a keystone of the United State's clean energy industry and an economic boon for its host state. Now, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada are scrambling to get picked, and last week Republican legislators in Arizona began to try pushing their state to the top of the pile.</p> <p>It's the latest sign that, at least at the state level, the clean energy industry's best friend might be the GOP. Newt Gingrich <a href="https://www.gingrichproductions.com/2014/03/christie-and-tesla/" target="_blank">quickly pounced</a> on Christie after the direct sales ban for "artificially" insulating car dealers, just weeks after <a href="http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2014/02/18/newt-gingrich-to-john-kerry-resign/" target="_blank">calling for John Kerry to resign</a> after Kerry named climate change as a principle challenge of the generation. On Tuesday, Texas Governor Rick Perry called his state's direct sales ban <a href="http://bizbeatblog.dallasnews.com/2014/03/gov-perry-its-time-for-state-to-revisit-antiquated-rules-that-prohibit-tesla-sales-in-texas.html/" target="_blank">"antiquated"</a> nearly a year after a <a href="http://www.bizjournals.com/austin/blog/abj-at-the-capitol/2013/04/electric-car-sales-bill-is-life-or.html" target="_blank">Democrat-backed bill</a> to change the policy was killed.</p> <p>New Jersey and Texas <a href="http://money.cnn.com/interactive/pf/autos/where-you-can-buy-a-tesla/?iid=EL" target="_blank">aren't the only states</a> where you can't buy a Tesla car directly from the company: Arizona and Maryland also have direct sales bans. But a bill passed out of committee in Arizona's GOP-controlled Senate last week would reverse the state's position and allow electric vehicle companies to sell directly out of their showrooms. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Warren Peterson (R-Gilbert) said he was spurred by the New Jersey situation to amend what he sees as a creeping assault on free market principles.</p> <p>"For me, it's not about Tesla or electric cars," he said. "For me, a big concern I have now is we are limiting someone's choice."</p> <p>But despite backing from some prominent Arizona Republicans (Sen. John McComish <a href="http://www.foxbusiness.com/industries/2014/03/20/arizona-bill-would-pave-way-for-tesla-direct-sales/" target="_blank">told the <em>Arizona Daily Star</em></a> he didn't see why the state should "prevent someone else who has a better idea from making an effort to enter that industry"), Warren said he's faced opposition from others who see the bill as damaging to the state's traditional car market or a handout to Tesla, arguments that swayed the decision in New Jersey.</p> <p>"I have a tough time understanding why Republicans are opposed to it, because free markets are such a big part of the platform," he said. "States that moved away from this have made a big mistake."</p> </body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/blue-marble/2014/03/gop-lawmakers-scramble-green-energy-cash"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Blue Marble Climate Change Climate Desk Corporations Energy Tech Thu, 27 Mar 2014 10:00:21 +0000 Tim McDonnell 248321 at http://www.motherjones.com Now You Can Get Solar Panels at Best Buy http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2014/03/now-you-can-get-solar-panels-best-buy <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <img alt="solar costs" class="image" src="/files/solar-costs2_1.jpg"><div class="caption">Tim McDonnell</div> </div> <p>There was an era when putting solar panels on your roof was a time- and money-sucking hassle on par with remodeling your kitchen. But the cost of going solar has been dropping fast. The latest signal of the industry's move into the mainstream came last week, when San Mateo, Calif.-based SolarCity* announced it would begin to sell solar systems out of Best Buy, alongside big-screen TVs and digital cameras.</p> <p>"There are a lot of people out there with unshaded roofs, paying high electricity bills, who just don't know this is an option for them," said Jonathan Bass, SolarCity's vice president of communications. The move into Best Buy "gives us a chance to have that conversation with more people."</p> <p>The company is the <a href="http://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/top-250-solar-contractors/" target="_blank">biggest installer</a> in the country's biggest solar market, California, a state that earlier this month <a href="http://www.caiso.com/Documents/CaliforniaISO_BreaksNewSolarProductionRecord.pdf" target="_blank">broke its all-time solar power production record</a> twice on two consecutive days, churning out enough electricity from solar panels to power roughly 3 million homes. Just since last summer, California's solar production has doubled, according to the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state's electric grid. There's a lot more growth where that came from, Bass said.</p> </body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/blue-marble/2014/03/now-you-can-get-solar-panels-best-buy"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Blue Marble Charts Climate Change Climate Desk Energy Tech Top Stories Infrastructure Thu, 20 Mar 2014 17:39:21 +0000 Tim McDonnell 247711 at http://www.motherjones.com